I’ve been watching the Netflix series “Narcos” and have just about wrapped up Season 3. Narcos is a show about Pablo Escobar and the Colombian cartels in the cocaine trade of the 1990s.
Sure, there’s some security tradecraft and intelligence collection in the show, which in my opinion makes it worth the watch, but I found something more interesting:
Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar didn’t just run a cartel. He ran the entire city of Medellin and the province of Antioquia. He was untouchable. As one of the richest men in the world, he was more powerful than the Colombian president. But it wasn’t just his wealth that gave him power — it was his army of gunmen willing to die to carry out his orders and the overwhelming popular support he enjoyed in his home city.
In the show (and in real life), after a years long battle with the DEA and Colombian National Police, Escobar’s cartel is destroyed and he’s ultimately killed.
After Escobar’s death in the show, I thought, “Well, I guess that’s the end of the series.”
The smaller cartels were battling for supremacy to fill in the power vacuum left by Escobar’s death. A clear victor emerges.
There’s an interesting dynamic here because it’s not just the competing cartels fighting for power. The Colombian National Police and their counter-narcotics units complete this circular firing squad where everyone is fighting against each other for power.
I look at this as an analogy of what happens when government loses legitimacy. We see it happen all over the world: the people lose faith in their public institutions — due to decades of corruption and ineptitude — and that’s one way you get failed states. That’s how you get competitors duking it out to fill a power vacuum.
Over the weekend, I perused the shelves of Barnes and Noble’s Current Affairs section, which was rife with anti-Trump books and warnings of the country’s impending fall into fascism. There were books on racism, sexism, religious bigotry (e.g., Christian), and every other flavor of imaginable intersectionality and victimhood. There were books about political resistance and civil disobedience, and books by conservative and progressive authors who lay all blame for every wrong in the world at the feet of their political opponents.
There are clearly a lot of grievances in America (real, imagined, and contrived).
Pending any change to the ballots, roughly 50 percent of the country is going to be unhappy about the results of next year’s elections. Roughly 30% is going to be irate. A smaller percentage may be moved to violence.
The legitimacy of elections may even fall into question again.
Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of government legitimacy. Politicians can have all-time lows in approval ratings, we can impeach and remove our leaders, and elected officials can run the country into the ground — but as long as there are free and fair elections, change is always just a few years away. We at least have faith in the process, even if we don’t like the results.
But what happens when that “faith in the process” ends?
What happens if next year’s elections are disrupted?
What happens if there’s terrorism on the morning of Election Day that keeps millions of Americans from voting due to fear of being harmed?
What happens if a winner is declared, but there are valid claims of voter fraud that might overturn the results?
What is the “hanging chad” equivalent of the 2020 elections?
If there’s one thing that “keeps me up at night” — more than EMP, financial collapse, or any other catastrophic threat — it’s what’s going to happen with this election.
It’s a big, Big, BIG reason to think about the local effects of these potential events. We can’t focus solely on the primary event: what are the second- and third-order consequences? (Financial, economic, etc.)
I’m reminded of the power vacuum left by the death of Pablo Escobar. Even in that hectic period, his enemies didn’t miss a beat. Ours won’t either.